Barbara Astman’s photo-based artworks question what it means to exist, and often in unexpected ways. “My art practice is considered a research-based practice in which process plays a huge role in the outcome of what I make,” she says. “I make images that relate to the practice of photography. It’s camera art, photo-based art and I use other media.”
Astman is internationally recognized as a visionary who has radicalized visual culture, and she enjoys a variety of challenges. Along with her lengthy international exhibition history spanning four decades, she’s a Faculty of Art professor, lecturer, curator and researcher, and is active in the Toronto arts community, serving on numerous boards and advisory committees.
She also makes public art works. “I work with developers to create something specific for a building. It’s a very different process and it has to be accessible to the public,” she says. Her public art commissions include a series of photo-based images for 217 windows at the Murano on Bay in Toronto (2010) and a public art installation for the Canadian Embassy in Berlin (2005).
Barbara Astman - Dancing with Che
Her main interest is her own studio-based practice. She’s working on a new series created using glass bottles and other objects as negatives that she prints in her analogue darkroom. Her touring exhibition, Dancing with Che: Enter Through the Gift Shop (2011), is comprised of 30 images that she commercially reproduced onto coffee mugs, T-shirts, book bags, postcards, keychains, commemorative plates and other objects.
“I’m very active with exhibitions,” Astman says, noting that her work is part of the Photography in Canada: 1960-2000 exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada and also on view at the Canada Council Art Bank this year. “It’s important for students to see exhibitions. You can learn a lot by showing up to see shows and getting out to see art in the city,” she says.
Barbara Astman - Furworks from the Newspaper series
Teaching is important to Astman, and she brings her experimental approach to the classroom. “I encourage my students to break rules, risk failure and not to stick to what they already know. That’s how they can grow as artists,” she says.
She tells her students to keep their minds open, and to come in with a positive attitude and strong work ethic. “People think being an artist is an easy thing, but it’s not. It’s a lot of work. People go to an exhibition and think, well I could do that, but you didn’t, I did. Even for myself I try to keep my mind open to the potential of what’s out there and what you can discover as an artist.”
Find out more: barbarastman.com